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Short note to German Chancellor Scholz: Concerns at the Ahr about reconstruction aid – “Federal government must fulfill commitments”

Malu Dreyer urges the Chancellor to uphold the promises

The uncertainty has also reached the Rhineland-Palatinate State Chancellery in Mainz. Minister President Malu Dreyer (SPD) has now penned a letter to Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz, which FOCUS online Earth has access to: In it, she appeals to the Chancellor to uphold the commitments from the law establishing a special fund “Reconstruction Aid 2021”. Both North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate were each promised 15 billion euros for the reconstruction of infrastructure, buildings, and rail transportation in the so-called reconstruction fund. “I firmly believe that, despite the consequences arising from the ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court, the federal government will fulfill its obligations from the Reconstruction Aid Establishment Act 2021,” writes the Minister President to the Federal Chancellor.

 

“The letter rather suggests uncertainty”

What was supposed to bring clarity is fueling the discussion at the Ahr: “Why this letter?” wonder residents with whom FOCUS online Earth has spoken. “People want certainty that the aid is secure. The letter rather suggests uncertainty to me,” says David Bongart, project manager for the Ahrtal 2025 tourism concept.

It is certain that following the ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court, the federal government may no longer establish special funds from which it gradually finances aid programs in subsequent years. Such a “special fund” is the reconstruction fund. Just in June, the states of Rhineland-Palatinate and NRW extended the deadline for compensation applications until 2026. The urgency of the money and the sluggishness of the reconstruction at the Ahr between Blankenheim and Sinzig are evident from figures mentioned both by Malu Dreyer in an interview with FOCUS online Earth and by the mayor of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Guido Orthen, to FOCUS online Earth: Damages of 4.11 billion euros have occurred in the Ahrtal. In Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler alone, it’s 1.86 billion. So far, in the district town, only 35.7 million euros have been disbursed for various reasons such as labor shortage or the complicated application process. Out of 1,450 construction projects, only 118 have been approved in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler to date; in other places at the Ahr, the situation is not any better, rather the opposite. Mayor Guido Orth said in a panel discussion with State Secretary Simone Schneider and State Secretary Michael Hauer at the opening of FOCUS online Earth’s climate office: “At this rate, we won’t be able to access the money by 2026 either.”

Special funds’ principles seem absurd and out of touch

It is feared that the mayors and the district administrator at the Ahr will now have to hurry even more: because the court in Karlsruhe emphasized the principle of annuality and annual-ness. Credit authorizations may only be used in the year they were established. This means: the money must be spent in the year in which a special fund was set up. Two questions arise: What happens if a new flood hits the Ahr in December? Would it then be prohibited to repair roads from an aid fund established in December as early as January? This sounds absurd and out of touch with reality. Second question: To what extent does the principle of annuality now apply to the Ahr? Does the Ahr valley have to re-declare the emergency situation every year from now on and reapply for the money?

Emergency situation must be re-declared at the Ahr every year

The government declaration by Olaf Scholz does not address this issue here.The unambiguous expression. He declared on November 28th: “We therefore want to anchor the aid for the Ahr Valley again in the budget for this year and make use of the exception in Article 115 of the Basic Law. This is what we suggest to you in connection with the supplementary budget 2023.” Article 115 of the Basic Law provides for “in the event of natural disasters or exceptional emergencies” that the “credit ceilings” may be exceeded. But only if the majority of the Bundestag decides this. Since the judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court, this emergency is also repeatedly mentioned in relation to promised financing, for example in the energy sector.

In the government statement, Olaf Scholz also speaks of a “new reality” at the Ahr, which the “judgment creates in such a way that aid in such emergency situations must now be newly decided by the Bundestag every year, but can also be newly decided”. For the people at the Ahr, this means that the emergency must be declared anew every year. “This does not mean that the money is void,” says the State Chancellery to FOCUS online Earth. But apparently, it also does not mean that it is secure.

Malu Dreyer demands that Scholz provide security to the people

Whether Minister President Malu Dreyer is suspicious of the situation is not clear. In any case, it is “important to me as the head of the state to assert the claims of the people in the Ahr Valley,” a spokeswoman told FOCUS online Earth. “I am very grateful to you for making it clear that we owe it to the victims and those affected on the spot to stand in solidarity with them during the long-lasting reconstruction,” she writes and then becomes clear: “I perceived your statement as a clear commitment from the federal government to the jointly agreed and promised aid and support measures.”

The Minister President asks the Federal Chancellor to “dispel any uncertainty among the people in the affected regions by clearly stating that the federal government will fulfill its obligations from the 2021 Reconstruction Assistance Fund Establishment Act in the years to come”. Conviction sounds different. It will be interesting to see the Chancellor’s response.

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